Now, Temple Funds In Tamil Nadu Are Misused To Execute Public Infrastructure Projects

M R Subramani

Jul 10, 2020, 06:12 PM | Updated 06:12 PM IST

Nataraj Temple, Chidambaram (Wikimedia Commons)
Nataraj Temple, Chidambaram (Wikimedia Commons)
  • Temple activists wonder why the State government should allocate temple funds for projects that are meant to be executed and funded by government departments.
  • The Tamil Nadu government, led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), is misusing temple funds to execute public infrastructure project, drawing the ire of Dharmic followers and temple worshippers.

    In its plans for the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) Department for 2019-20 as well as 2020-21 fiscal, the Tamil Nadu government has listed quite a few public infrastructure projects under the department’s plan for execution.

    For example, the government has said that the road to the Tirutani Murugan (Lord Skanda) temple will be constructed at a cost of Rs 8.5 crore. The details were given in a statement made by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswamy on 24 March this year under Rule 110 that allows a ruling government to make an announcement in the Assembly without any clarification or question being asked.

    Temple activists wonder why the State government should allocate temple funds for road construction that should be handled by the Highways Department.

    In the same statement, the government said it has allocated Rs 26.20 crore for de-silting temple tanks besides repairing their steps and building parapet walls for them.

    Interestingly, the 2020-21 Budget allocation also mentions de-siltation of temple tanks to strengthen the groundwater table in rural and urban areas.

    The Budget speech, made by Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, who handles the Finance portfolio, says that “rehabilitation of water bodies including temple tanks in towns and cities by dovetailing scheme (Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Scheme) funds” would be done.

    As per the speech, the Tamil Nadu government had “converged Rs 750 crore” under the rural employment scheme and 21,444 works had been completed out of 30,000 works.

    In the same speech, the Deputy Chief Minister said that 858 temple tanks had been de-silted at a cost of Rs 4.69 crore. However, it is ambiguous on how the cost was funded.

    “Let the Tamil Nadu government first restore lost temple tanks in the State as ordered by the Madras High Court. The allocations for desiltation are plans for committing more irregularities,” an activist P R Ramanan asked on Twitter.

    Another aspect of Tamil Nadu government’s HRCE plan is the launching of a television channel called “Thirukovil” (temple) at a cost of Rs 8.77 crore.

    The channel will telecast poojas and festivals of different temples across the State, according to Palaniswami.

    Temple worshippers, however, wonder why should the government spend money on launching such a channel when there are a couple of other well-established channels that have have a huge following.

    The 24 March statement among other things said that integrated mandal offices will be constructed in Tirunelveli, Palayamkottai, Salem and Vellore at a cost of Rs nine crore.

    It said that eight assistant commissioners office would be constructed besides creating 17 additional posts at an outlay of Rs seven crore.

    Besides, 50 additional posts would be created to examine temple jewellery at a cost of Rs 3.64 crore, while additional 234 posts - supervisors and office assistants - would be created at an outlay of Rs 12.98 crore.

    Activists wonder why is there a need to create these additional posts when so much of irregularities are taking place in the HRCE Department.

    What hurts temple activists further is the Tamil Nadu government’s plan to tap the funds of the Palni Sri Dhandayuthapani (Lord Skanda or Muruga) temple for a drinking water scheme.

    Check dams will be constructed across River Palar and underground wells will be dug to get 2.31 million litres of water a day at a cost of Rs 22.72 crore. The work has been entrusted with the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage (TWAD) Board.

    The problem with this scheme is why should a check dam be built using temple funds and whether the Palani temple requires that much volume of water a day.

    Temple activists also find amusing the State government’s plans to implement a drinking water scheme at Kallanthri village in Madurai district tapping the funds of the Madurai Arulmighu Kallazhagar temple. The project will cost Rs 3.31 crore and TWAD board will execute this project too.

    When contacted, T R Ramesh, President Temple Worshippers Society, told Swarajya that the State government and its officials besides temple administrators will attract Section 409 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) if temple funds were used for the aforesaid projects.

    Section 409 of IPC deals with criminal breach of trust by public servants that attract a maximum of life imprisonment and fine.

    Temple funds cannot be used for such purposes as per the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959.

    Ramesh said he would be filing a case against the proposals in the local courts to ensure that temple funds are used properly.

    The Tamil Nadu government’s attempts to tap the temple funds come on the heels of its efforts to regularise encroachments of temple lands.

    On 30 August last year, it issued an order to regularise such encroached lands, justifying that it wanted to give these lands to poor families.

    The order was stayed by the Madras High Court following a petition by the Temple Worshippers Society and others.

    Later, in an attempt to the nullify the stay, the State government termed the encroached lands as “unwanted lands”. The case is pending before the Madras High Court.

    Temple worshippers and activists do not want the State government to administer the temples since such an administration has led to irregularities and loss of temple properties, including invaluable idols.

    A case filed in the Supreme Court by the late Dayanand Saraswati to end government administration of temples in 2012 is pending before the Supreme Court.

    M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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